'Dhadkis' are primarily used as quilts to help endure the harsh desert cold. They also have ceremonial importance and are given as dowry. They are sometimes used to cover a stack of quilts, in which case they are called 'Ochad'. In the mornings, the quilts are spread out under the shade on which the women sit, chat and work on their embroideries. These are also used as spreads when the communities migrate with the cattle and they need to rest while their herds graze. These elaborate patchwork quilts are the pride of the household and serve as a symbol of family's social standing.
Often in the drought prone region of Kutch freckled with small villages that mostly rely on cattle breeding and farming for livelihood, income generation remains unsteady as Kutch suffers the consequences of climate change, and many of the women have begun to rely on Dhadki making and Embroidery for income.
In Kutch, it gets quite chilly in the nights, even during summers. Therefore, the quilt is a year long essential. It is a much valued possession, displayed prominently beyond the entrance to their 'Bhungas'. These embroidered quilts are piled high on the wooden cots and display the skill of the women. Embroidery is prized for its beauty and commercial value, but quilts symbolize a family's social position and wealth.
Old clothing is often used to make these quilts, to enable them to be softer. In this manner, old cloth is put to use and there is little wastage. However, for the quilts made for dowry, old cloth is not recycled.
A simple system of measurement is used to calculate the dimensions of the Dhadki. One 'Nari' is the length of the forearm, from the elbow to the tip of the fingers. As an average estimate, a Dhadki is 5 Naris long and 3.5 Naris wide.
Myths & Legends
The craft of Dhadki making is being practiced since the onset of civilization, meeting the need for soft sleeping surfaces and shelter from cold. It flourished in different parts of world via means of nomadic and semi nomadic clans. The western sub-continent has always been an intermediate camp for traders pouring in from Middle East and Northern frontiers. The dry and colorless terrain of Kutch too has helped in evolution of design ethos of native communities.
In the design of the body, there is generally a top layer and one or more bottom layers with cotton padding in between. The back of the quilt is made of a single piece of cloth, or a couple of pieces joined together to gain the required dimensions. The preferred color is dark green, black or any other dark shade.
The face of the quilt is intricately decorated by the women. The most popular method is appliqué, but it is difficult and time consuming to embroider large areas. The women of 'Muthwa' clan combine techniques to achieve a stunning effect.
In its layout, a quilt has two main parts - 'the border' and the 'central field'. The border is generally a series of bands, either plain, printed or with works such as appliqué or 'Katab'. In the quilts for daily use, the central field is made of printed fabric only. In the Dhadkis for dowry, it is beautifully ornamented with appliqué and/or 'Katab' work in various geometric or floral patterns. Another technique is where the entire length of fabric is created by sewing together coloured pieces of cloth of different shapes.
The different communities of Kutch have their characteristic designs that are used to make quilts. A few prominent ones are as follows:
Muthwa Dhadkis: The Dhadkis of the 'Muthwas' are the only ones which include a large portion of embroidery. They are characterized by a thick border of 'Pattis' or bands of at least seven colours - orange, blue, green, red, pink, white and black as these colors are sacred to the Muslims. These are adorned with a very fine but simple running stitch. Due to the wide border, the central field is smaller than the quilts of other communities. Tiny mirrors and motifs are scattered evenly to give it a fuller look.
Completely embroidered 'Dhadkis' are not used much due to the immense amount of time and skill required. Most of the old ones have been sold to antique dealers and private collectors for money during adverse situations. In the absence of embroidery, the Muthwas use printed fabric to bring about a similar effect. There is also a blend of appliqué work done with small squares or triangular pieces of cloth. This quilt is called the 'Chitkiwali Dhadki'.
The border is followed by rows of square, triangular and diamond 'Chitkis'. After 2-3 rows of printed 'Pattis', there is a row of patchwork. This is followed by 4-5 lines of very neat and small 'Kungris'. It is sometimes ornamented with a row of little compact three dimensional dots called 'Bido' on the top.
Jat Dhadkis: The Jats use quilting to make dhadkis, thick mattresses, kothries and pillows. There are generally four bands of solid color at the borders. Graphical square areas are created by appliquéing five different coloured square 'Chitkis', in blocks placed at regular, wide intervals. This may be followed by a band or two of square chitkis or a band of rectangles sewn together or even a row of kungris.
The central field is large owing to a narrow border. It is made of a single piece of cloth which is intricately printed or by piecing together a few large patches. The field is divided into squares. The size of the squares varies. A narrow strip of square chitkis divides the central area into the segments. A simple running stitch forming very close concentric rectangles holds all the layers of fabric and cotton together. The density of these stitches depends on the embroiderer and the importance of the occasion for which it is stitched.
Darbar Dhadkis: The edges were done in five straight lines followed by a kungri. The remaining area was divided into several diamond shapes. These were again filled with a variety of patterns like spirals, waves, concentric circles and squares. Little star motifs called the chamkudi were also scattered among the diamond shapes. This type is called the manjiwali dhadki. In the newer designs, the aspect of reversibility was highlighted by the use of a different coloured fabric on the other side.
The tree of life depiction, referred to as the jhaad ka paan, is a popular one. It is surrounded with peacocks, parrots, elephants (with or without the king riding on it), camels, cows etc. Very little of black is used in the dhadki since it is believed to be a sacred color.
In the 'Bandhawad' technique, the triangles are appliqué with the sides folded outwards with tacking done on the edges. These are generally appliqué with sides folded inwards.
Sodha Dhadkis: The tree of life motif is a prominent symbol in the dhadkis of this community too. It also has appliqué flowers and geometric motifs along with that of animals. These are encased in a wide border of three 4 inch wide border bands in green, golden yellow and magenta. A kungri row in contrasting color edges each band.
Meghwal Dhadkis: As a rule, when a single person makes a whole Dhadki, she works in the format of a series of rectangles. Whereas, when it is a group activity, the layout of the Dhadki may be different. Katab work is very popular among the Meghwals. Their color palette is the same as that of the other ethnic groups. A distinctive feature is their preference for solid color cloth forming the main body. Whenever printed cloth is used, it is done so as small Chitkis.
There are several types of borders for the Dhadkis.
- A series of 3-5 Pattis of solid colors usually with white as the outermost color. This is followed by red, green, yellow, black or blue.
- A series of 3-4 colored Pattis, a row of square or diamond shaped Chitkis sandwiched between two or more colored strips.
- An edge of a single colored Patti followed by a Katab border.
The ground can be a single piece of cloth with applique and Katab work done on it. The Katab work is overall and intricate for work done for dowries. The central field may be constructed of small squares or triangular pieces of cloth. The visual pattern is formed only due to the placement of colours in case of the square Chitkis. Several creative variations are seen in quilts with triangular Chitkis. The triangles can be arranged as regularly progressing diagonals. The flow can be broken by reversing every alternate triangle and thus creating bigger triangles. The distinctive 8-pointed star called kathipor can be made by playing with colours and orientation of the pieces.
The front, back and intermediate layers are held by the 'Sadho Seba' stitch. A decorative variation called the 'Khudi Seba' is also used often.
The number of quilts given in dowry has greatly increased over the years and this has caused deterioration in the quality of work. Cotton has given way to poly-fill (fluffy polyester fibers) which has greatly affected the feel, weight and texture, which is characteristic of the Dhadkis. Printed designs are also fast substituting the finely appliquéd and embroidered patterns.